Today’sconviction of 13 activists from the citizen movement Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) by a military court in Beni is a shameful attempt to silence critical voices, said Amnesty International.
The activists – who have already been held arbitrarily for five months – were sentenced to a further 12 months in prison for their participation in a peaceful demonstration in November last year.
“The conviction of these 13 activists simply for having exercised their right to freedom of peaceful assembly is another shameful attempt to suppress dissent in DRC,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes Region.
“The sentence must be quashed, and these activists must be immediately and unconditionally released. Congolese authorities should address these activists’ legitimate demands for effective protection of civilians in the conflict, instead of preventing them from speaking out.
“President Tshisekedi must lift abusive restrictions on civic space under the pretext of the state of siege, and completely revoke the power given to military courts to judge civilians, in accordance with international human rights standards.”
The 13 Lucha activists were arrested on 11 November 2021 in Beni during a peaceful protest to denounce the authorities’ failure to protect civilians against deadly attacks by armed groups, despite the ongoing state of siege.
They have been arbitrarily detained since November 2021, with at least three of them falling seriously ill due to the trauma of their brutal arrest and poor prison conditions. They have not received appropriate medical attention. The 13 activists were accused of “provocation to disobey the laws” and faced three years in prison.
President Félix Tshisekedi declared a ‘state of siege’ in North-Kivu and Ituri provinces in May 2021 with the declared aim of reducing attacks on civilians. However, the implementation has resulted in flagrant human rights violations, including the transfer of political and administrative powers to the military and police, a blanket ban on protests, and the transfer of criminal jurisdiction over civilians to military courts. All of these constitute a violation of the Congolese Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the DRC is a party.
Amnesty International has documented dozens of cases of arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention of peaceful activists, journalists, and at least three provincial MPs in the two provinces since May 2021.